Hunter Knettel, 6, had the usual back-to-school jitters in early September, but his fears were eased by a special secret. Hunter's first-grade teacher, Julie Clemons, also taught his father, Chris.
"So long ago," Chris, 35, says with a laugh. Chris, a firefighter and paramedic, was in "Mrs. Clemons" kindergarten class at Farmington Elementary, then the city's only elementary school.
Hunter attends first grade at North Trail Elementary. Chris isn't sure he could keep up today. "They're expected to do so much more," he said. "I had nap time."
Hunter, sporting a buzz cut and dressed in khaki shorts and tennis shoes, is mapping the flight path of monarch butterflies.
For the luckiest, though, some things don't change, like patience, kindness and experience emanating from Julie, 54, who is beginning her 30th year of teaching the youngest students.
"She was just so pleasant, so comfortable with the kids," Chris said.
Still is. Principal Steven Geis calls Julie "an absolute gift to students and parents. Her teaching style needs emulation. She's calming, personable. The students come back and seek her out."
As do some parents. "I know we can't request teachers," Chris told Geis last spring. "But she had a profound impact on me."
When Hunter came in for testing, he asked Julie: "Did my dad really have you as his teacher? I don't think Hunter believed him," she said, noting that her newest Knettel is full of personality. "One day he started tapping his finger. He looked at me and said, 'That means I'm thinking.'"
Julie, whose mother and daughter also are teachers, has never been tempted to teach higher grades. "Even though a child might have had a bad day, they come back the next day loving you," she said of those still willing to sit quietly in circles on the carpet, hands in laps. The best surprise, though, is when they come back decades later. "It's very touching," Julie said. "You always wonder what happens to those kids."
Do you know a special duo? "Duets" is an occasional feature that celebrates unique relationships between two people. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org (please put "Duets" in the subject line) or call 612-673-7350.